Thursday, May 10, 2012

Canada suffers from a "generosity deficit" ..signs of insecurity and inferiority?

Reading a piece by Arthur Black, formerly of CBC's "Basic Black," I learned about two young Canadians who taversed the planet without a single use of mechanical, electrical, jet, or "engine" power, using their own body muscle to bike, row, walk, run... and making it through, for example, hurricane season in the Caribbean in a tiny row boat, biking from Moscow to Portugal where they began their row-boat journey across the Atlantic to return home, without as much as a front page story in the provincial daily....because they are only Canadian, eh?
While, in the U.S., these two would have, as Black speculates, both a movie and a book contract in which to document their adventure, their courage and their tenacity, in Canada, they have not been heard of, except for Black's informative piece. And, Canadian businesses and governments struggle to achieve what appears to be the unachievable... innovation, creativity, new ways of doing things and new things to create.
What's wrong with this picture?
Are we so damned puritan and so damn enmeshed with 'sin' and false humility and contempt for the accomplishments of our own people that we will for example:
  • as the editors of the Parry Sound North Star, in 1967, consider Don Harron, then known as Charlie Farquarson, the Parry Sound farmer,  an embarrassment to the town and refuse to interview him when he visits the town
  • fail to show up, in droves, to listen to aspiring and highly competent young musicians in the 90+ Kiwanis Music Festivals that take place across the country every year while graduates of the festivals dot the Juno Awards, and teach in many of our universities
  • reject new people and new approaches to whatever we are involved in, preferring to do it "the old way" to preserve some kind of historic mystique...for example, when a new recruit in a pulp and paper mill attempts to roll a several-tonne roll of newsprint with the tool he practiced in his training and orientation sessions, an old hand shoves him aside, puts his shoulder to the roll and shoves it to where it needs to be, snorting, "This is how we do it here!" and when the young recruit attempts, he destoys his shoulder
  • as the provincial Ministers of Finance, when the federal counterpart, in the midst of the economic crisis, proposes a national regulator for the financial services sector, balk so loudly that that proposal has to be scrapped
  • when the evidence is clear, based on decades of reliable and verifiable research, that workers respond with increased productivity, significant drops in absenteeism and higher workplace morale, to positive messaging for work well done, continue to manage our workers exclusively through negative messages, delivered only if and when the worker "screws up" and never when the job is extraordinarily and exceptionally well done, even when the customers tell the company that truth
  • carve out turf wars over the most minute detail of procedure and protocol in order to establish a faux "power" and a faux authority, especially over newcomers to the workplace, so that we can demonstrate how "responsible" we are to the workplace culture and thereby impress our superiors with our gate-keeping
  • refuse to help fellow students seeking explanations for physics and math problems when they knock on the college dorm door, preferring to ask instead, "Are you in pre-meds too?" and when the answer comes back, "Yes," shutting the door in the 'competitor's' face
  • throwing up a wall, or down a moat, as gatekeepers in every social organization, workplace, political organization, to protect the "status quo" when everyone knows that nothing is so complete and so perfect and so generative of new life that it cannot withstand some change, thereby demonstrating our commitment to, and our deliberate co-dependent enmeshment with the current  leadership, policies, methods and practices to the exclusion of anything that might even hint at "the new"...
  • reject as "blowing his own horn" the extraordinary efforts of individuals in whatever field of endeavour, when we learn of some accomplishment in his/her personal, professional or group activity...and find some explanation that demonizes the success like, 'he's trying to impress the boss' or 'he only did that to put it on his resume' or 'glad not everyone acts like him because there would not be enough room anywhere for all the ego's'
  • cynically and jealously reject anything American, especially their productivity and innovation in the workplace, because it contains too much "personal self-serving aggrandisement" and too much "selling" and too much "hollywood" in its overproduction
  • find every angle to criticise public figures, and to bring them down, for being too smug, or for being too smart, or for being too intense, or for being too ambitious,or for being too abrasive, or for not respecting the status quo and wanting too much change as a way of protecting ourselves from our own complacency, apathy, lack of imagination, emptiness of courage..
  • fail to provide adequate training and orientation to new workers, thereby preserving from those workers, much of what is needed to do an outstanding job, in order to "see if they can fit in" and pass the litmus test of "ordinariness" and not show any of us "up" and embarrass us
  • fail to hire the truly outstanding, preferring the more 'ordinary' because that's the way we do things here...and will continue to maintain our ordinariness, come hell or high water
  • alienating the truly gifted students in our classrooms, because we feel insecure in their presence, while they are inevitably feeling their own insecurities, without our acknowledgement of their vulnerabilities..and, of coure, alienating the truly gifted in all our boardrooms, offices, and workplaces for the same reasons
  • fail as a nation even to try to reach the (Lester) Pearson goal of .07% of GDP in foreign aid
This is a time when global economics and fiscal management are in serious trouble. There is a wave of thought, and to some extent political action, in the direction of austerity, cutting spending, gutting unions, gutting pensions and benefits from workers, firing teachers, firemen and women, and all forms of provincial and state employees, in order to right the balance of debt to GDP. Canada, it seems, is in somewhat less danger of insolvency for its tightly regulated charter banks, and the separation of the financial services sector from the banking sector.
However, Canada suffers from a "generosity deficit" in so many ways, starting with the way we treat each other in face-to-face encounters:
  • we find contemptible any sign of messiness in a neighbour's yard, children, car, desk or office
  • we find contemptible any evidence of failure in school, in business, in legal terms, in the practice of any of the professions and, by contrast, we cling to a version of childhood that is both immature and ultra-simplistic, despising any sign of temper, alienation, pain or behaviour that embarrasses
  • we find disgusting the lack of morality among those in generations following our own, given our superiority in all things over those attempting to follow in our footsteps
  • we find revolting any mistake by any company, any business, any school, any doctor or lawyer or accountant and hold everyone "else" to a much higher standard than we could hold ourselves
  • we devour all stories of crime, violence, misdemeanour, even eccentricity, as part of the 2% who are responisible for all criminality, without owning that we too could be part of that, at any time, without warning
  • we absolutely refuse to extend compliments, especially to those we consider "too big for their britches" which really means those who extend themselves beyond the ordinary, thereby showing us "up" for our apathy, carelessness, lack of ambition, or sheer mundane-ness
We are a nation of whiners, complainers, and have made an industry of tearing down each other, and our accomplishments. And the alternative is not to copy the Americans, nor the Brits, nor the Germans, nor the Italians, nor the Africaners, nor the Japanese, nor the Chinese, nor the Indians. We could find our own way to shift our focus from the weather and the size and accumulation of the dollar, to seek and to note the generosity of our co-workers, to seek and to note the kindnesses of our neighbours, to seek and to note the selfless and untiring contribution of so many to our general well-being, without any thought of extrinsic rewards, or promotions, or expectations.
And our generosity, while uniquely Canadian and therefore understated, could find its way into our nation's productivity, our nation's sense of well-being, our nation's sense of both history and a promising future, our nation's schools and colleges and universities and our laboratories, in significantly increased quantity and quality because we share a common pride in what we can do, rather than in what we have so far failed to do.

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